[Keywords: Philippine–American War, General Elwell Stephen Otis, General Thomas Henry Barry, General John C. Bates, Santo Tomas, Lipa, Talisay, Colonel Robert Bullard]
From a series of telegraph communications between United States Army officers in the field and their commanding generals, published in the 1900 report1 of General Elwell Stephen Otis, Military Governor of the Philippines, we are able to piece together the fighting that went on in the town of Santo Tomas, Batangas in January of 1900.
The Philippine–American War broke out on 4 February 1899, so this was almost a year into the conflict. Because the source document is of American origin, it goes without saying that we are able to obtain more details of the fighting from the American point of view.
An exchange of communications on 10 January 1900 between General Thomas Henry Barry, of the Adjutant–General’s Office, and General John C. Bates in the field, provides a wealth of details about the encounters in Calamba and Santo Tomas. A Colonel Robert L. Bullard, commander of the 39th Infantry, had earlier sent in a report to the former stating that he had engaged Filipino “insurgents” in a “very handsome fight” in which 74 Filipinos were killed and wounded while in the American side, only one was killed and two were wounded.
Bullard’s report went:
“The first and hardest fight was in the enemy’s trenches here within a mile of Calamba, along the Santo Tomas road southward. One man of Company E, 39th Infantry, Private Walker C. Hoskison, was killed; Lieutenant Petite, 39th Infantry, received a flesh wound in both legs, not serious, and Captain H. C. Baker, 39th Infantry, had right ear perforated by bullet.”
Bullard’s report also highlighted the mismatch between the American and Filipino troops. In all, 24 Filipinos were killed and one found “on the field.” Some 60 fighters were taken prisoners and many more wounded were being seen “being carried to the rear toward Taal Lake.” Among the armaments captured were two bamboo cannons. 😞
Because of this victory, Bullard and his troops were able to take possession of the town of Santo Tomas as well. Filipinos who escaped from the fight and others defeated in Cavite were expected to reassemble in the town of Talisay or reach the mountainous coastal area of Batangas, likely Nasugbu. As many as nine or ten “organized companies2” had been driven from Santo Tomas into Taal Lake.
On 11 January, Bullard sent word to Barry that Filipino troops engaged a group of 106 soldiers from the 37th Infantry under the command of one Major Cheatham “2 or 3 miles west of Santo Tomas.” The Filipinos were driven away when artillery was used. In all, there was a total of 600 American soldiers stationed in the town after its capture two days before.
Meanwhile, Bates gave the order to the 38th Infantry under on Colonel Anderson to proceed to Talisay “and attack the enemy wherever found.” An entire regiment – 1,000 to 2,000 men, depending on the country3 – left Silang for the lakeside town with four guns (cannons).
These Filipino troops driven from Santo Tomas were being joined by forces beaten in Cavite in a retreat towards the Taal Lake area. American soldiers sent to Talisay, under the command of Brigade Commander General Theodore Schwan, to find and engage them and cut off their retreat, however, did not find it easy to do actually do so. Wrote Schwan in a report to the Adjutant–General:
“So far as can be ascertained, no large bands of insurgents are passing south. Small bands are forming in the direction (i.e. south), avoiding trails and moving through woods. Most all of these believed to be making for their homes.”
Once in the safety of their homes, the Filipino fighters “concealed their rifles and assumed the role of ‘amigo.’ ” That is, they blended right into the landscape and pretended to be natives receptive to the presence of the Americans.
Once Santo Tomas had been secured, Bullard’s 39th Infantry, joined by the 38th which had been ordered to support it, with their wagon trains and guns rode south through Tanauan and on to Lipa in their drive to start taking control of the towns of Batangas.
Notes and references:1 “Report of Major General E. S. Otis, United States Army, Commanding Division of the Philippines, Military Governor,” published 1900 in Washington D.C.
2 A company was, depending on the country, anything from 80–150 soldiers and was commanded either by a major or a captain. Wikipedia.
3 “Army Units & Sizes,” online at Second World War.